“…My beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence, but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Philippians 2:12-13 ESV
The transformation of a Monarch from caterpillar to butterfly contains far more stages of inner work than I remembered from 4th grade science. To be fair, maybe our class didn’t study the Monarch specifically, but what I recalled about metamorphosis is not at all the events I’ve seen as recorded in the YouTube video linked below. A tiny larva has more changes to endure than seems right or fair, yet he must. God made a design, and the way to glory is self sacrifice.
Before I continue with the butterfly story, let me add, today’s post is birthed out of a series of personal painful circumstances. You may have picked up on previous posts that I have been going through several stressful events in recent months. Out of respect for others involved, there are things I do not speak of publicly. However, in a desire to live transparently, I will share that our family is not immune from selfishness, greed, resentment, pride and all the hurt-filled consequences that come when one of us acts in such a way.
These ugly attributes cause pain, and ongoing pain chips away at resolve. Why play nice when no-one else seems to be?!! Multiple difficult episodes occurring in succession have put me at a level of exhaustion that keeps me from doing much more than eating and sleeping. I’ve required extra rest to continue to live on the same life track. A pathway I believe in and am convinced will pay off with perseverance. The caterpillar’s chrysalis reminded me of the importance of downtime, but I did not expect the butterfly life cycle to teach me about the purpose of pain!
Back to that butterfly….
CATERPILLAR: THE FEEDING STAGE
I thought the story of the caterpillar began with hatching, growing and spinning a web-like cocoon. After working hard, the caterpillar would retire in a coma until it was time to exit this mummy existence. Like a chicken, the butterfly would hatch out of its shell.
When a caterpillar larva leaves the egg, it begins a series of transitions. While doing nothing more than constantly consuming leafy materials, the caterpillar grows and matures from the inside. As this happens, it splits its skin and sheds it about 4 or 5 times growing up to 100 times their original size! For example, a monarch butterfly egg is the size of a pinhead and the caterpillar that hatches from this egg is tiny too. But it will grow up to 2 inches long in several weeks. As you will see, if you watch the attached video, a bigger and stronger life is growing inside the smaller weaker one! There is a requirement for the “lesser” caterpillar to give way to the better version of himself.
PAUSE FOR PERSONAL INSIGHT
I have felt pain in the splitting of my two selves; the stubborn me versus the gracious me. It begins with knowing I am participating in the hurt. I notice cracks in my thought processes that put me on the wrong side of truth. For instance, I recently believed someone was intentionally hurting me when their motives and resulting behavior had absolutely nothing to do with me. In my head, this person was my enemy, when in reality, they were just doing what was in their own best interest. It wasn’t personal.
It took “manning up,” becoming a bigger, more mature version of myself, to communicate and resolve the problem. A process that began by sacrificing the need to be right or get my way, listening to another view, and being humble to talk about the painful things. Humility and repentance split the skin of pride and self-righteousness.
There is a wrestling of the bigger caterpillar within the confines of the smaller. It hurts, sometimes both emotionally and physically. By taking the risk of letting go of the protective self, there is a new life that is an improved version of the old. This process happens over and over.
This seems the right place to talk about the verse that began this whole avenue of thought…Philippians 2:12 (sited above, at the beginning of the post). How on earth do we “work out [our] own salvation” while simultaneously acknowledging “it is God who works in you, both to will and to do for His good pleasure?” If I am working out my own salvation, how is God working out my salvation?
Could the caterpillar-turned-butterfly be our example of how God set up a pattern for all life? What if what seems a paradox is actually teamwork? The larva just eats and acquiesces for the change to take place. Could we do the same by doing what we are gifted in and letting the results be what God determines? What if, by bowing to His will, we ultimately receive His glory?
That is what God has been telling us all along.
PUPA: THE TRANSITION STAGE
Just when it seems like the best and brightest version has arrived, it is time for a major overhaul. This is the pupa stage. Like I mentioned earlier, I thought a caterpillar spun its chrysalis from silky materials. Nope. The monarch secures himself by fashioning a sticky tether to a safe place. He steadies himself for the most extensive transformation of all. Perhaps the many previous changes were practices for the grand metamorphosis!
How do we secure ourselves for personal transformation? What do we tether to? What is our stronghold? Those few strands of silk are slight but set. We are given many many opportunities to get this choice right.
Surprisingly, the chrysalis is not a coffin. It is not layers of wrapping. This place of rest is still the body of the caterpillar! Like a set of Russian nesting dolls, a monarch butterfly is life within life within life. Only each life form is bigger than the one before it! A butterfly develops within the caterpillar. This is an amazing design!
Can you see, in your mind’s eye, a young Adam in Eden being taught this parable by God?
“Within you, dear child, is glory that can only be tapped by your willingness to die to yourself….”
MATURITY: THE REPRODUCTIVE STAGE
A glorious creature eventually emerges to fly on dainty wings. Watching a butterfly is delightful! Like a tissue paper kite, it appears fragile on the wind, so unlike it’s previous, chunky form.
With its new identity, everything about it has transformed. Its diet changes from hearty greens to sweet nectar. Its duty has also changed; a butterfly’s role is to reproduce.
Can we adopt the role change from being takers to givers?
I pray that I am becoming more like Christ in a sacrificial lifestyle of forgiveness. These challenges that I have faced can be the painful process necessary to let go of the smaller me. I am choosing to believe it is the pathway to an untethered beautiful life in God’s glory.
Father, continue in us the metamorphosis of man. Work in us, that we might desire to do the work for your good pleasure. Help us to accept the way to glory is sacrifice, and beauty is through the pain and not an avoidance of it. Thank you for Emmanuel…God with us…in pain. Amen.
Here’s that link to the video “Egg to Monarch Butterfly” by NatureNorth.com